KNIGHTSTOWN — New Palestine graduate Chris Ulrey has been no stranger to success when it comes to the sport of baseball.

An IHSAA state champion at the high school level with the Dragons, conference championships at the college level and an array of winning seasons as a high school head coach.

That success has continued into this season in his first year as head coach of the Knightstown program.

In year No. 1 he has led the Panthers to their first semi-state since 2016.

“Doing my due diligence I knew the talent that they had here at Knightstown. I wouldn’t say I expected this, but the guys have worked really hard and we have some great senior leadership,” Ulrey said. “I knew the potential, but in my first year as head coach I thought it would just be us putting in our standards, philosophies and expectations.”

A 2006 graduate of New Palestine, Ulrey’s taste of postseason success began early as a member of the 2004 state championship team. He was the Dragons No. 4 hitter for three years, was All-State in 2006 and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox before deciding to go play in college.

Those high school years were the groundwork for his success and the basis for the coach he’s become today.

“Coach [Al] Cooper, coach [Shawn] Lyons and all the coaches on staff at that time were amazing. As a 15-year-old kid they helped me become not only a better athlete, but a better kid in general,” Ulrey said. “They showed what it takes and the commitment to get to that level. They are the guys that prepared me for the next level and really molded me into the player I was at that time.”

Twenty years after winning a state championship with the Dragons, his connection with New Palestine is still strong. Cooper came and spoke with Ulrey’s Knightstown team earlier this week and Lyons and Ulrey sent texts congratulating each other after both won the regional championship.

“Coach Lyons sent me a text earlier this week congratulating me just like I congratulated him on New Pal making it to semi-state,” Ulrey said. “It’s always nice to hear from your past coaches. It’s nice to see them follow your career, and getting to keep in touch with them has been great.”

Cooper, after speaking with the team, could immediately tell why Ulrey and the Panthers have had the success that they’ve had this season.

“His knowledge of baseball has really grown. He’s done some great things developing kids and has learned how to get kids to buy into a team concept. That approach has really blended well with Knightstown because they have a lot of hungry baseball players,” Cooper said. “I could tell they’re really locked in and connected. They have that want to understand and follow the team plan.”

Ulrey began his coaching career in 2010 at Beech Grove and won a sectional title in 2012 before leaving to go be a hitting coach and recruiting coordinator at Kankakee Community College. Following his stint there he was an assistant coach at Mt. Vernon before becoming head coach at Warren Central in 2021.

In 2022, his team won 13 games which was the most for the program since 2001 and in 2023 his team went 17-9 for the first winning season since the 90s.

“I’ve always loved the programs that aren’t used to having success and are big on development because you really get to see what kind of coach you are,” Ulrey said. “I’m all about developing programs and getting kids to buy in.”

While he found success at Warren Central, he never viewed it as a long-term spot. According to him, Knightstown fit everything he was looking for.

“It was time for me to find a program where I could see myself in long term and a program where we could win championships. Knightstown was a place I really thought I could try and build a program with all the young talent,” Ulrey said. “Knightstown reminded me a lot of New Pal 20 years ago when I played. It was a small town with a small-town community feel to it. New Pal is still really big athletically and gets that support still, but it’s not so much corn fields anymore. Coming to Knightstown, I was reminded a lot of where I came from. I just felt like it was the right spot, and it felt like home.”

The fit has been more than perfect.

After a 7-14 season and first-round sectional exit in 2022 and a 14-10 and first-round postseason exit in 2023, Ulrey has led the Panthers to an 18-8 record, a sectional title, regional title and first semi-state appearance since 2016.

And they’re doing it in a very New Palestine way.

The Panthers have allowed just five total runs throughout their four postseason games including a first-round upset over state-ranked Hagerstown 5-2.

“We showed signs all season. We were young and gave a lot of young guys opportunities in the early part of the season, but we showed signs of being really good and tough to beat,” Ulrey said. “The last half of the season, we’ve made adjustments and our defense and pitching have been outstanding.”

Ulrey and Knightstown will look to keep the momentum going today in the Class 2A South Semi-State at Plainfield High School. They play Providence at 2 p.m. with the winner advancing to the championship game at 8 p.m. against the winner of Greencastle and North Posey.

“I’m proud of the fact that he came from our program and he tries to run his program the same way and tries to emulate what we did,” Cooper said. “I’m really proud of what he’s done there and wish him all the success.”

2024 IHSAA Baseball Class 2A Baseball State Tournament

Admission: All tickets will be digital through your mobile phone and may be purchased through Eventlink (additional fees may apply). No cash. Present your purchase verification on your mobile phone at the gate for admission. $12 per session; $20 all sessions. Children age 5 and younger admitted free.


Class 2A at Oak Hill

11 am | G1: Madison-Grant (17-10) vs. Illiana Christian (19-9)

2 pm | G2: Westview (19-10) vs. Rochester Community (20-10)

8 pm | Championship: G1 winner vs. G2 winner


Class 2A at Plainfield

11 am | G1: Greencastle (16-10) vs. North Posey (24-5)

2 pm | G2: Knightstown (18-8) vs. Providence (19-7)

8 pm | Championship: G1 winner vs. G2 winner